Magazine article New Internationalist

Growing in Unity. against All Odds, the Unions in Latin America's Banana Plantations Are Showing What "Sustainable Development" Might Really Mean

Magazine article New Internationalist

Growing in Unity. against All Odds, the Unions in Latin America's Banana Plantations Are Showing What "Sustainable Development" Might Really Mean

Article excerpt

Against all the odds, the unions in Latin America's banana plantations are showing what 'sustainable development' might really mean, says Alistair Smith.

When the 80 delegates to the Latin American Banana Workers' Union Co-ordination (COLSIBA) conference finally arrived in Uraba, Colombia, last August they found that local banana unions had created an 'Experiment in Peace'.

In the last three years union leaders and others associated with the banana workers' campaigns for justice have been killed in Colombia, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras and the Philippines. Between 1999 and 2000 over 40,000 banana jobs were lost in Latin America. In Ecuador, Nicaragua and Belize average pay is now well below the level of a living wage. Bananas have been identified as a clear example of the injustices of the global food economy. Toxic chemical warfare against the pests and diseases that spread with banana production has reinforced the hard truth about the workings of the international banana trade.

But in Uraba genocidal massacres have given way to an inspiring process of peaceful reconstruction. COLSIBA has led its unions and their 45,000 members out of the ideological trenches and into new struggles. Old labour-movement solidarity has found new possibilities with union members elsewhere, including the North. 'Surely, the members of UNISON, IG-Metall, the CGT or the AFL-CIO eat bananas too, don't they?' the banana unions ask.

The strongest of the 40-or-so independent unions in COLSIBA is the Colombian Agricultural Workers' Union, SINTRAINAGRO. It organizes 90 per cent of the Uraba banana workers. The history of the union is inextricably linked to the bloody internecine politics of competing revolutionary guerrilla movements here - as is also the case in Guatemala. 'EPL' now stands not for the disbanded Popular Liberation Army but for Esperanza, Paz y Libertad - Hope, Peace and Freedom: a political movement with elected mayors currently running innovative local governments in several of Uraba's biggest municipalities.

So peace is possible in this wild corner of the Americas. Uraba is a decreasingly fragile experiment where 'ordinary people' are putting into practice some of the key principles of sustainable development. …

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